The cruise ships went to sea indefinitely with many of their crew members trapped on board. They are grouped into armada of huge ships.
Of all the industries that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the cruise industry is probably the hardest hit. Not only are their activities shut down, but they became the face of the global Nightmare early on, with hulking pleasure ships transformed into floating prisons rife with infection.
Now, according to satellite imagery and transponder tracking data, with no income and nowhere to sail, cruise ships are seeking refuge in the Caribbean and Atlantic, trying to weather a storm they were never intended for.
Storing cruise ships in port is not a cheap proposition and there is not enough space to accommodate them in traditional berths. In addition, international crews serving these huge vessels are not allowed to go ashore due to the risk of contamination.
Since the vast majority of these ships are flagged by relatively small and poor countries that lack the capacity to influence the situation, the only place they can go is at sea. And this is exactly where many of them are now.
One armada, in particular, off the coast of Coco Cay and Great Strength Cay - the first belongs to the Royal Caribbean cruise line, and the second belongs to the Norwegian cruise line - in the Bahamas and is surprisingly large.
A sad flock of cruise ships scattered freely in three groups spanning about 30 miles - from one group of islands to another about ten miles to the west, to another about 30 miles to the west.
Check out the satellite photos below to get an idea of what we're talking about. Keep in mind that these groups appear to be in constant flux, with the formation and overall composition of ships in each group changing fairly regularly.
Although there are no passengers on board these ships, and some cost more than a billion dollars to build, there are still many people on board. Most of their crews were literally stuck on these ships. As the world has cut travel due to the explosive spread of COVID-19 around the world, and cruise ships have become highly unwelcome guests at long-established ports of call, cruise line workers have been trapped in their floating workplaces away from home.
Many of the countries where they come from are not wealthy enough to repatriate them even if they could, which is why they are now stuck in a hell of a paradise of sorts on giant pleasure boats that have been driven into the pestilence. Meanwhile, they also have loved ones to worry about at home, but they cannot directly influence their situation.
“I hope we won't be forgotten to be honest,” says Mashon Morton, who works for Princess Cruises. "No one here seems to care what happens to us."
As of May 5, more than 57,000 crew members were on board 74 cruise ships in and around US ports, as well as in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, according to the US Coast Guard. Many hundreds more were stuck on ships in other parts of the world's oceans.
Without supervising passengers and ending their quarantine, employees are left wondering why they were not allowed home.
As such, unless the COVID-19 situation takes a miraculous turn for the better, it is difficult to imagine a set of circumstances in which the crowds of cruise ships will not be left to sail further at sea.